Tips For Helping A Grieving Child With Special Needs

Written by Jenny Wise.

While it’s true that dealing with death is part of being human, that doesn’t help anyone who lost someone they love. The death of someone close to you will be devastating, and it will take some time for the grieving process to end.

However, this will all be more difficult for a child with special needs. Any child can have trouble coming to terms with such a loss, and some may not fully understand what’s going on. But there are ways you can help the child get through their mourning. You can start by knowing what the mourning can look like.

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What Grief Looks Like

Whether someone has special needs or not, they typically go through the same five stages of grief. explains they are:

  1. Denial and isolation: Refusing to accept the death and deny that anything has happened.
  2. Anger: Feeling strong, negative emotions, often centered on others who had nothing to do with the death.
  3. Bargaining: Trying to feel in control of the situation by running “What if we only ….” scenarios.
  4. Depression: Getting sad to the point where you obsess over the death and how it impacts you.
  5. Acceptance: Finally coming to terms with the passing and getting ready to live a normal life again.

When this happens to a child with special needs, these stages can come in any order — depending on the particular needs. For example, a child with anger or anxiety issues might skip denial and start with anger and depression. That’s fine, as no one must go through those stages in order.

Explaining The Death

Before the child can go through these stages, they need someone to explain what happened. It might be tempting to consider not telling the child, but that’s a bad idea. They deserve to know the truth no matter what they’re special needs might be.

Friendship Circle offers some tips for explaining the death, such as:

  • Be honest about how you are feeling when talking to the child. Don’t avoid using terms like “sad.”
  • Along the same lines, understand that a child with special needs may not get phrases like, “Going to sleep,” as they can think you literally mean sleep leads to death.
  • Take time to celebrate the life of the deceased and help the child focus on the positive parts of their experience.

Once you’ve explained what happened, you need to be there to help the child with those stages of grief. Here are some tips:

  • Be patient as the child processes their grief. Everyone’s mourning process is unique and takes a different amount of time.
  • Help them when they are hurting, but let them experience the pain. They need that to finally reach acceptance.
  • Allow the child to ask questions, and when you answer, try to be honest but concise. Longer answers can just make things complicated.

Planning For Your Child’s Future

If the child is yours, talking about death like this can make them ask some uncomfortable questions about what happens when you die. In turn, that can make you concerned for your child’s future.

Redfin explains that you need to think about a caregiver. Family is always an option, but some kind of special needs living facility can be a better choice, as they often have the training needed to meet those needs. You’ll also have to worry about finances and legal documents to protect your child’s inheritance and even provide an income when you are gone. If you haven’t done so already, meet with a financial planner in your area to discuss your options.

They Need Your Help With Grieving

Mourning the loss of a loved one is never easy, but it’s often harder for children with special needs. That’s why your help is needed. Understand what grief looks like, then have some honest conversations about what happened. Then work on creating a legal and financial future for your child. All of this can help the child get through the grieving process.